Monochrome and Color Landscape in the work of Brian Kosoff and Jenni Kowal
The Drawers photographers whose work is on display this week, Brian Kosoff and Jenni Kowal, both portray landscape, but in vastly different manners. Kosoff’s large-format nightscapes explore the uncanny nature of rural scenery, while Jenni Kowal’s color-saturated mountain scenes depict natural cycles, both monumental and slight.
Brian Kosoff offers us vacant cemeteries under the moonlight, streetlights at the ends of empty roads, and anthropomorphic tree branches. The series conveys a similar mood to Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, scenes all at once pensive and vaguely menacing. The star trails created by the use of a long exposure do not swoop parabolically through the sky, instead catapulting catastrophically towards earth in diagonal streaks. Kosoff describes the series, writing: “at night, with the skies now transparent, we are truly outside and at the whims of nature, [we realize] that we are just fragile passengers on a small, spinning ball in the middle of nowhere.”
The photographs explore the uncanny nature of these country landscapes shrouded in darkness--a setting once pastoral has shifted towards the fantastic realm of a Chris Van Allsburg or Stephen King story, in which residents of a nowhere town question the appearance of unexplained crop circles. One of the images, “Bonneville” from 2012, looks unmistakably extraterrestrial, as the cracked white surface of the salt flats mimics the terrain of planetary craters. The richness of detail and the use of long exposures gives the land in many of the photographs a distinctly tactile quality, with the softly blurred grass in juxtaposition with the explosive and dynamic sky above.
In her series Alaska: Above and Below, Jenni Kowal also depicts landscapes, differing from Kosoff in her use of vibrant color. Against the backdrop of Alaska’s Denali National Park, Kowal explores shifts in perspective; shot from below, the mountains appear limitless and towering, from above, textured and intimate, like folds of cloth. She articulates this, writing “I feel safe in the mountains because I am powerless beneath them; from above I can see their secrets.” One photograph, “The Lights over Kantishna” from 2013, alludes to Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night,” the eery swirls of the Northern lights mark the sky like impressionist brush strokes. As small pictures beg closer viewing in order to discern their details, the darkness of this piece demands that the viewer move closer, creating a squinty intimacy with the photograph.
In “The School and the Shadow,” also from 2013, shadows of unseen trees line a wooden wall. This deviates from the majestic tone of the rest of the series; it is simple and quotidian, a meditation on light and shadow. Kowal creates a grid of pattern and texture with the seemingly accidental elegance of a found sculpture. The work as a whole depicts different types of vicissitude: monumental shifts, like the slow crumble of mountains, are treated with the same careful reverence as seasonal variations and the even smaller cycles of light and shadow across a wall.
Kowal’s images pay tribute to the grandiose Alaskan scenery, while Kosoff explores the strange mystery of rural nightscapes; both artists depict different states of harmony and tension in natural realms, at times emphasizing juxtaposition, and at others showing graceful interaction between the elements.